Times Staff Writer

A sweltering day in an unnamed Japanese city. A frail, elderly man (Tsunehiko Watase) picking his way through the streets, then slowly climbing the stairs to a second-floor print shop. He’s a retired detective who has written a collection of case histories and wants them printed in book form. The printer (Mikijiro Hira) accepts the order routinely, unprepared for the shock in store for him.

At this point, “Amagi Pass” (at the Kokusai), an elegantly wrought psychological murder mystery, flashes back to the summer of 1940 when the printer, then a 14-year-old schoolboy (Yoichi Ito), runs away from home, refusing to become a blacksmith like his late father and in response to the trauma of discovering his mother in the arms of her own brother. He intends to take the Amagi Pass, an old footpath through the mountains to the next town where his older brother lives.

Among the various travelers he meets along the way is an exquisite young woman (Yuko Tanaka), not very much older than he, to whom he reacts as if she were a princess and not the prostitute she is. (Later on, at a crucial moment, she will remind him of his mother.) The next thing we know, Tanaka has been arrested by Watase for murdering a vagrant, despite scant evidence. It is his first big case.


Written and directed by Haruhiko Mimura from Seicho Matsumoto’s novel, “Amagi Pass” unfolds as a low-key police procedural within an intricate flashback structure. A veteran assistant director, Mimura in his first film proves a precise craftsman, concerned with composition and detail. As it turns out, however, he’s been deliberately holding back--to create all the more impact in his film’s climactic sequence, as lyrical as it is shattering.

“Amagi Pass” at this point dispenses with dialogue and adds music, heretofore virtually absent. Composer Mitsuaki Kanno’s romantic score commences as Tanaka begins a delicate, innocent flirtation with Ito as they traverse the pass, approaching an inescapably Freudian tunnel. To make comprehensible all the implications of the events that shatter this most charming of idylls, Tanaka has to seem utterly adorable and ravishing, embodying every youth’s ideal of the beautiful and sensitive woman he dreams will make a man of him.

So gorgeous and talented is Tanaka that she succeeds, and a film which has seemed painstaking but essentially a genre piece becomes something extraordinary. “Amagi Pass” (Times-rated Mature for adult themes and some brief, stylized violence) leaves us wanting to see more from Mimura and Tanaka.

Second feature is “Sure Death 2: Stop the Conspiracy,” a samurai film starring Makoto Fujita and the veteran Isuzu Yamada.

‘AMAGI PASS’ A Shochiku release of a Kiri production. Producer Yoshitaro Nomura. Writer-director Haruhiko Mimura. Based on the novel by Seicho Matsumoto. Camera Yoshimasa Hanetaka. Music Mitsuaki Kanno. Art director Yutaka Yokoyama. With Tsunehiko Watase, Yuko Tanaka, Mikijiro Hira, Yoichi Ito, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kenzo Kaneko, Ichiro Ogura.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.